BACKGROUND: The prevalence of congenital heart disease is higher in camelids than in other domestic species and complex defects, often involving the great vessels, are more frequently encountered in llamas and alpacas than in other species. Some of these complex defects can be difficult to accurately characterize via echocardiography, the most commonly used diagnostic imaging technique to evaluate the heart in veterinary patients. Contrast-enhanced, electrocardiogram (ECG)-gated computed tomography (CT) has proven utility for the evaluation of human patients with certain congenital heart defects, including those with conotruncal septation defects and other abnormalities involving the formation of the great vessels.
METHODS: Three alpaca crias, 4 days, 5 weeks and 14 months of age were clinically evaluated and subjected to a complete color-flow Doppler echocardiogram and a contrast-enhanced ECG-gated CT.
RESULTS: These alpacas exhibited a variety of clinical findings including lethargy, failure to thrive, exercise intolerance, heart murmur, and/or respiratory difficulty. All three crias were subsequently diagnosed with complex cardiac defects including pulmonary atresia with a ventricular septal defect (VSD), a truncus arteriosus with a large VSD, and a double outlet right ventricle with a large VSD and aortic hypoplasia. In each case, the diagnosis was confirmed by postmortem examination.
CONCLUSION: Color flow echocardiographic evaluation identified all of the intra-cardiac lesions and associated flow anomalies but contrast-enhanced ECG-gated CT permitted more accurate assessment of the morphology of the extracardiac structures and permitted a more precise determination of the exact nature and anatomy of the great vessels.